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An Ohio truck driver should receive workers compensation temporary total disability benefits even though he was fired by his employer for testing positive for marijuana in a post-injury drug test, a split Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
According to court documents, James Cordell broke several bones in his leg after he fell five or six feet from a truck in February 2012 — an accident both he and his employer, Houston, Texas-based Pallet Cos. Inc., agreed was not caused by the marijuana found in a post-injury blood screening that was released to his employer six days after the accident.
The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation covered his medical expenses for the work accident but denied workers comp TTD payments, claiming he had voluntarily abandoned his position by testing positive for drug use and that the company had fired him on the day it received his test results, according to court documents.
On an appeal from Pallet, an Industrial Commission of Ohio district hearing officer found Mr. Cordell ineligible for TTD benefits, agreeing with the company that Mr. Cordell violated a known drug-free workplace rule at Pallet Cos.
An industrial commission staff hearing officer reversed that decision in July 2012, finding that "an Injured Worker who is unable to return to work at his former position of employment cannot voluntarily abandon his former position of employment.” Therefore, the officer found that Mr. Cordell could receive TTD benefits because he was fired, instead of voluntarily leaving his position at Pallet.
The industrial commission overturned that ruling after finding that Mr. Cordell's marijuana use represented voluntary abandonment under Ohio case law. The commission also ruled that Mr. Cordell had been paid $22,081.88 in TTD benefits to which he had not been entitled.
Mr. Cordell appealed the case to the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals and then the Ohio Supreme Court.
The state high court affirmed the TTD benefit award to Mr. Cordell in a 5-2 ruling on Thursday. The court majority found that Mr. Cordell’s “termination does not amount to a voluntary abandonment of employment for purposes of (TTD) compensation when (1) the discovery of the dischargeable offense occurred because of the injury and (2) at the time of the termination, the employee was medically incapable of returning to work as a result of the workplace injury.”
The dissenting justices in the case found that Mr. Cordell voluntarily forfeited his job when he violated his employer’s drug free workplace policy.
A worker who tested positive for marijuana following a workplace accident is still entitled to workers compensation benefits, an Ohio appeals court has ruled.